Still Lobbying the GOP Way
If you’re in the market for lobbyists who have the ear of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or who can twist the arm of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), then skip the firm of Jim Hirni and Mike Haywood.
The two GOP lobbyists, who recently set up shop together as the LTD Group (that’s LTD for living the dream), are planning to carve out a niche as unapologetic and unabashed Republican lobbyists, door-openers, strategists and fundraisers.
“Our credentials are solid,” Hirni said during an interview at the conservative Heritage Foundation, the spot of his first job in Washington, D.C. “We fundraise for Republicans. We strategize with Republicans, and our clients have invested in them.”
It seems a perilous business plan in the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, but either by design or because of circumstances, a handful of small GOP-only shops like Hirni and Haywood’s have sprouted up since Democrats took control on Capitol Hill. While some of these proud-to-be-Republican lobbyists say they actively are trying to recruit Democratic colleagues who fit in with their business plan, some eschew the idea of partnering — at least for now — with advocates on the other side of the aisle. [IMGCAP(1)]
“I recognize that there are people who might think we’re nuts and that we must have missed the memo about the new sheriff in town,” quipped Mike Meece, whose previous government gig was in the George W. Bush White House, where he served as a liaison to the business community.
Meece recently started the Meece Group, and today he is bringing on another GOPer, Laura Pemberton, who just left the leadership office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), where she was a policy adviser.
Meece said that over the next decade he would like to grow the firm to include two or three partners and six to eight associates. “I’m perfectly comfortable with us being a Republican firm now, and I would be perfectly comfortable being a Republican-only firm in the future,” he said.
Hirni, who has worked at the staunchly GOP National Federation of Independent Business and for Senate Republicans including Jeff Sessions (Ala.), left the bipartisan firm Cassidy & Associates earlier this month because, he said, his employment contract ended and he and the firm couldn’t come to an agreement. Before joining Cassidy, Hirni worked a few months at Greenberg Traurig as part of now-jailed Jack Abramoff’s lobbying team.
“I have always wanted to work in an environment of like-minded Republicans,” he said. “This is a perfect fit for me.”
Hirni is bringing with him his clients from Cassidy including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and U.S. Tobacco, while Haywood, who spent five years lobbying in-house for Duke Energy and before that was a staffer to Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), has a roster of energy clients including Southern Co., Duke and the Edison Electric Institute.
“We have centered on corporate clients that need to be playing more defense than offense,” Haywood said.
They project that their lobbying revenue for the first year of business could be upward of $800,000.
Gregg Hartley, the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Cassidy & Associates, called Hirni “a great lobbyist” who is very aggressive.
“He thought this was the right time to try this on his own with a close friend,” Hartley said. “I just had coffee with him a few minutes ago. We’re going to look for ways to continue to work together.”
Several Republican lobbyists at bipartisan firms called the GOP-only model excessively risky. “I sure wouldn’t want to roll the dice like that,” said one lobbyist at a law firm.
“If I was 35, I might go join him,” Hartley said, adding quickly, “I’m a believer in bipartisan firms. But everybody makes their own judgments.”
It’s not just the young GOPers who have made the jump.
Dan Mattoon, a former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, split off from the then-bipartisan PodestaMattoon in January. He said that as he neared 55 years of age, he wanted to start his own business. His shop has a strategic alliance with the firm of Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta.
“When we first started talking about this, ‘Foley Friday’ hadn’t occurred,” said Mattoon, referring to the pre-election scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who abruptly resigned from Congress after news stories revealed his inappropriate relationships with male pages.
“That said,” Mattoon added, “we were ready to go. It was unfortunate that the House and the Senate flipped. But we are kind of in a good position, at least short term or even longer to stay as we are.” Yet Mattoon said he would be interested in bringing on a Democrat who already has a book of business.
Two other Republicans who recently went into business together plan to take a bipartisan turn. Graham Hill, who just left a spot as Republican staff director on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit, and Clayton Heil, who was deputy staff director and general counsel to the Senate Appropriations Committee and an aide to the committee’s former chairman, Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), say they are looking for Democrats to join them at their new venture, Ice Miller Strategies.
The firm’s board of directors also includes two Democratic members of the Ice Miller law firm, an investor in Hill and Heil’s company.
Hill said that he had wanted to go out on his own before the November elections, which swept his party out of power. “Strangely, the election didn’t really change our plans,” he said.
Although Hill and Heil have not brought on a Democratic principal, Hill said, “that is going to happen. We’re looking for the right person.”
Added Heil: “It’s more important that we find the right person that fits with our culture than just party affiliation.”
Ice Miller Strategies’ clients include pharmaceutical firm Roche and defense contractor General Atomics. More clients are on the horizon, both partners said.
“We think that with our backgrounds, in the House and Senate, authorizing and appropriations committees and other interests, we hope to be a full-service firm,” Heil said.
For Hirni and Haywood, though, their party affiliation is part of the firm, though neither one completely would rule out hiring a Democrat.
“We’re starting a business, but we also want to help Republicans,” Hirni said. “We own a company, a piece of what we’re doing.”
Haywood added, “If you succeed it’s because of you. If you fail, it’s because of you.”
Of course, the 2008 elections might play a role, too.